What’s the Best Parenting Style?

The other day, a friend relayed a story about children she knew who were dropped off alone to play somewhere. It made her uncomfortable. The kids weren’t on their best behavior. And when she left, she felt it was all too easy for someone to run off with them. She wondered whether I would let my nine-year-old do that.

Um, no. Too many what-ifs go through my head.

Though I don’t think what the parents did was wrong, it just isn’t for me yet and I don’t think my son is quite mature enough to handle situations that could come up. I’ve read a lot about parenting styles lately: the hovering helicopter type, the strict tiger mother and wolf dad, the soft panda father, the hippo who makes her child comply, the pushover wishbone who wishes for better behavior, or those who raise children with freedom to roam. Who says any style is the right one?

To me parents are all of those things. At least, we should be. We’re strict when our children refuse to do their homework because they need good grades to get into college. We’re tough when they won’t eat a balanced meal because they need to grow up big and strong. We’re soft when they have a hard time tying their shoes because we see their fingers fumbling and their panic rising, and we know they’ll get it. We’re pushovers when it comes to just one more bedtime story because we simply love it too. We make our children comply with stupid rules like cleaning their rooms because we can’t stand the mess, when they really could just close their door. We give our kids freedom when they need it. And we hover a little too much sometimes because if the unthinkable happened on our watch, we would never forgive ourselves.

About four years ago when Lenore Skenazy let her then 9-year-old son ride the subway alone, she experienced a backlash after writing about it for The New York Sun. Her son found his way home safely and was super excited about his little adventure. She said she quickly became America’s Worst Mom. Her blog and book, Free-Range Kids, talk about giving kids freedom and us being less overprotective parents.

My son just turned nine. In the past year, we have fought and fought and fought some more. What have I learned? My son needed more freedom. I was hovering. A third-grader doesn’t want to be babied. He can do it himself so let him. When I figured that out, when he told me, for the most part the yelling and the struggle stopped. He certainly didn’t need to ride the subway alone, but he just needed to know that I trusted him, that I know he is capable. He needed self-esteem and confidence. And simple things like pouring from a full gallon of milk at breakfast and cleaning up the mess if he spilled gave him what he needed.

He plays outside by himself. He does homework alone. He can make lunch himself. I taught him how to cook a simple meal on his own. He picked up a wrench and took the seat off his bike. He learned to use a pocketknife by whittling a bar of soap. Next up will be getting the stains out of his pants because he just won’t stop rolling in the dirt every day like a giddy pig. We try to let him do what he can on his own. In the process, we show him respect.

However, there are rules I will not bend, times I hover more than ever, and I don’t apologize for it or hide it. I still think it’s good, conscientious parenting and I tell my kids why.

I still need to know where my children are and whom they play with. If I don’t know the parents, they can’t play at their house. At age nine I still screen what my son watches and reads. I still watch him when he rides his bike in the street. I don’t trust drivers who may be texting or on the phone, and I’ve seen my kids pull out of the driveway too many times without looking. And when my kids play in the front yard, you can bet I’m often checking out the window. They don’t have to know they’re being watched but at least it gives me peace of mind.

This means I’m not going to drop my kids off somewhere and let them play, not where I can’t see them. I don’t need to stand within arm’s reach. They can run and play, and I’ll sit and read. But an adult needs to look after them. And the truth is, my mother wouldn’t have done it either when I was 9. I simply think third grade is too young, but it’s a starting point.

When my son recently mentioned staying home for a few minutes to wait for his dad while I left for a meeting, I was OK with that. Turns out we didn’t need to, but to me that’s our first step—in the comfort of our home.

He’s young and going places alone by foot, bike, and car will happen soon enough. And for now, my kids can benefit from a parenting style that includes a little bit of everything.




Filed under About Mom

21 responses to “What’s the Best Parenting Style?

  1. Jim Cantwell

    This brings up some really great points, while I would certainly not let my 9 year old ride the subway alone, they do need a form of independence, it builds character and self confidence. We also need to respect our kids, by doing so it breeds respect. There really is no big secret to raising our kids to be productive, good people. If we give them the respect, love and attention they deserve coupled with strong moral values, they in turn will be strong decent people. That is my experience anyway.

    • I agree. Sometimes I just have to take cues from my son. I find that he is pretty in tune to what he needs and when. I just have to make sure to listen.

      I think the subway was pretty shocking for a lot of people, but we don’t live in a big city and maybe there it’s not as big a deal. Not sure what the equivalent of that would be here. Walking to a friend’s house that’s not within sight? I can see that happening soon. Ish. 😉

  2. YES! I honestly hope (and believe) this is how I will parent my kids in 5-7 years. The perfect parenting style is to know your own children. Huge added bonus of this style — you’re less likely to be mean or judgmental of another parent’s style because you don’t know their kids.

    Great post.

    • I think that’s true. While I may not choose to raise my kids the way another parent does, it doesn’t mean I think they are a bad parent. I may secretly wish I were as flexible! There’s no one-size-fits-all style, I don’t think.

  3. The part about watching them even when they aren’t aware for peace of mind is spot on. I do that when our 3yr old is out back playing with the dogs. All the rooms on the back side of the house have windows and you better believe I’m aware where he’s at.

    • Yeah, they don’t have to know all of our tricks. How do kids think the term “eyes in the back of your head” came about? Parents know things because we are aware. We watch even when they don’t know we do.

  4. I was a very shy kid who grew up as a roamer (in gentler times). I often wonder if i would have become a confident adult if not allowed to do so, the way kids are protected today. I’m not sure if the world has become more dangerous of if we just hear more bad stuff.

    • Thanks. You bring up an excellent point. I hear you and I agree with you. It builds confidence to let kids handle things themselves. And I try to give him freedom. We’re just not quite there yet, ya know? I think he needs to be a little older to freely roam. I don’t think the world has become more dangerous. I just think I’m not quite done teaching him certain things yet, knowing that he’s grasped them.

      I think as a mom, my gut constantly tells me to protect my kids. It goes into overdrive, I won’t lie. But I know that I am working to let these kids go one day and it’s my job to give them the tools to do it. They will learn independence. I don’t want them living with me when they’re 30 no matter how much I love them!

  5. I thought this was an excellent post and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you had to say. However, before you leave your child at home alone, you should check with your local police department because there are laws regarding the issue. In our town 13 was the age the police department gave us.
    I probably would have let our kids have a lot more freedom, but I’m married to a man whose mantra is, “What are you going to tell the reporters when they show up at the front door?” Our chldren have turned out to be very independent (traveling to countries like India, China, Morocco, the list goes on and on . . . . on their own starting at age 18) so our hovering either helped them to be more secure or hurled them away from the safety (smothering) of our home. Oddly enough, I don’t worry about them as they travel because I know they have their mother’s worrywart head telling them “look both ways” and “no facial tattoos” and their father’s warning about the reporters.

    • Hmm. Guess I should look into that. Of course, like you, if I went on a ten-minute walk, I’d worry that the house would burn down and there would be a media frenzy. But it’s not much different than working in your yard and having something happen in your house.

      My kids are both worriers. My son freaks out when we go over the speed limit. Maybe they’ll be OK.

  6. It’s true that we need an eclectic approach to parenting. There’s also the factor that some areas and activities are safer than others. Then different children handle responsibility better and/or sooner than others. So parents have a lot of factors to consider that outsiders don’t see. We tend to judge because we think everyone should be like us. The best parents in the world are often Grandparents because they ‘ve already learned what not to do with their own kids ;). Angie

  7. I totally agree with you. With a 17, 14, and 11 year old, it’s so hard to know when and how much freedom to allow. I think, also, it depends so much on the kid. My oldest son can’t be trusted to use the stove when he’s home alone, but my 11 year old daughter could easily and safely cook a three course meal! Great post – I’m glad I found your blog.

    • I agree every child is different. Looks like you found that out. And thanks!

      • My thoughts exactly – our oldest and youngest are capable and mature beyond their age, but our 9 yr old needs constant supervision. I am not getting notification of all of your posts in my “reader”, I apologize. Now that I know its not a perfect system, I’m trying to follow on my own……

      • Yes, I’m aware of the problem. I changed my domain name like a dummy and now people are getting my posts in their reader. You may have to resubscribe. That has worked for others. I’m seeing what WordPress says. Thanks for looking me up again!

  8. Brilliant post! You’re so right that we all should be a bit of all of those styles. I’ll go one further and say a style depends on each parent-to-child relationship, each particular situation, and the reasoning capability of the child (his age) at that time. Me? Parent first, friend second. And all-of-the-above styles at some time or another. Gotta stay flexible to keep those little dickens constantly guessing. 🙂

  9. Great post! I am right there with you and have never subscribed to one parenting type (is there really such a thing?) As parents we just have to learn as we go, use common sense, and take cues from our children on when they are ready for more freedom. Kids need to be able to make safe mistakes, like spilling milk while pouring, and gain the confidence that comes from those experiences.
    I am a window watcher too, unbeknown to my boys. 🙂

  10. I agree! Kids need boundaries along with learning to be independent. The poster above me said it best – kids need to be able to make safe mistakes.
    They can learn from them and move on to be more independent as they get older. I think our styles adapt to what our children need at those moments. A parent wears so many hats; it’s impossible to choose just one style and always be that way. You’re constantly growing and changing as a a parent right along with your children.

  11. Pingback: Dragutin Movrin – How to Be A Great Parent to Your Kids

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